Dispute Resolution

Serbia: Investment Arbitration – Is Your Investment in Serbia Protected?

The past decade has been marked with an explosion of investment treaty arbitrations. Foreign investors are increasingly aware of the powerful tool contained in bilateral investment treaties (BIT).

Introduction

Under BITs, foreign investors can seek international protection against the state hosting their investment if the host state is taking certain actions adversely affecting the investment. Such protection presumes the right of the investor to bring a claim directly against the host state in a forum other than the host state’s courts.

The International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) has become the most common forum for investment disputes. Its institutional link to the World Bank has further contributed to the growing importance of investment treaty protection.

Finally, such rising significance of investment treaty safeguards has resulted in the availability of investment treaty claims in a jurisdiction becoming an important factor when planning M&A transactions. Thus, much like a favourable tax regime, the transactions are themselves structured to optimise investment treaty protection.

Treaty safeguards in Serbia

Against this background, we will discuss the following questions: What investment treaty safeguards may foreign investors expect when investing in Serbia? Who is protected? What types of investment are covered? Why should foreign investors consider ICSID investment arbitration?

Serbia has ratified the ICSID Convention, which is one of the preconditions for an investment dispute against a state to be conducted before ICSID. An additional prerequisite is the clear and unconditional consent of the host state to this dispute resolution mechanism for specific investment disputes and vis-à-vis certain foreign investors. Such consent of the host state is usually provided in BITs.

Serbia has signed a relatively wide range of bilateral investment treaties. Around 50 treaties of this type are currently applicable in Serbia. Serbia has investment treaty relations with all major countries that are the principal source of foreign investment in Serbia, such as Italy, Austria, Belgium, Greece, Germany, Russia, and more. BITs signed by Serbia usually contain such consent to ICSID arbitration.

Thus, foreign investors investing in Serbia can count on ICSID arbitration as the protection mechanism for their investments if, in addition to the existence of an applicable BIT, two other jurisdictional conditions are met: (i) the investing entity is a “foreign investor” within the meaning of the applicable BIT and (ii) there is an “investment” as defined under the applicable BIT.

Protected investors

The basic principle of a BIT is that only a national of the contracting party that is not the host state may bring a claim against the host state. This encompasses both natural and legal persons. For natural persons, treaties usually require that such persons have the same nationality as the other contracting party.

As to legal entities, definitions vary. Some treaties define this category of foreign investors solely by reference to their place of incorporation, while others refer to the seat of management and require that the headquarters or the actual economic activity be located in the territory of that other contracting state. Other BITs refer to the concept of control and require that the investing entity be controlled by a natural or legal entity having the nationality of the other contracting party. Some treaties even allow claims by companies formally incorporated in the host state if they are controlled by a natural or legal person from the other contracting party.

Protected investment

In terms of categories of investment eligible for protection, BITs applicable in Serbia usually refer to “all kinds of assets” and provide an illustrative, non-exhaustive list of certain protected types of investments, such as movable and immovable property, rights derived from shares, claims to money, intellectual property rights, etc.

Substantial guarantees

BITs provide substantial guarantees for the protection of foreign investments, which assume certain standards of conduct by the host state government vis-à-vis protected foreign investors. BITs applicable in Serbia usually contain typical substantive investment protection standards. For example, they guarantee fair and equitable treatment, national treatment, most favoured nation treatment, protection from expropriation, free transfer of means and full protection and security.

Dispute resolution

Serbian BITs often contain composite settlement clauses and thus provide several alternatives for the dispute resolution procedure. Besides ICSID, ICC or other institutional or UNCITRAL arbitration might also be an option for the settlement of investment disputes. Treaties typically establish a “cooling-off period”: they require the investors to wait for a period of time (usually three to six months) before bringing a claim against the state. Additional pre-arbitration requirements may also be found in some of the treaties.

The respondent in investment arbitration is the host state (or its constituent subdivision or agency in specific cases). Thus, investment arbitration has a political aspect and may, directly or indirectly, affect the credit rating and reputation of the host state, both among other states and among the foreign investors. The commencement of ICSID proceedings is public as data on registration and main steps in the proceedings are published on the ICSID website.

Unlike commercial arbitration, an ICSID investment arbitration is entirely independent of the judicial system of the host state. First, an ICSID award may not be annulled before the courts of any state. Second, it does not undergo the recognition procedure in the state in which it is enforced. It has the legal effect of a final court judgment and can be directly enforced.

When investing in Serbia, foreign investors can count on relatively wide bilateral investment treaty coverage, but should still carefully analyse underlying jurisdictional conditions to ensure in advance the applicability of the relevant treaty.

Srbija: Investiciona arbitraža – da li je Vaše ulaganje u Srbiji sigurno?

Prethodnu deceniju obeležio je nagli porast u broju investicionih arbitraža. Strani ulagači su sve svesniji da sporazumi o uzajamnom podsticanju i zaštiti ulaganja (BIT) sadrže moćno sredstvo zaštite za njihovo ulaganje.

Uvod

Na osnovu BIT-a, strani ulagači mogu da potraže međunarodnu zaštitu protiv države koja je domaćin njihovog ulaganja, u slučaju da ta država preduzima određene radnje koje ugrožavaju ulaganje. Ta zaštita podrazumeva pravo ulagača da podnese tužbu direktno protiv države domaćina i to pred institucijama koje nisu sudovi te države.

Međunarodni centar za rešavanje investicionih sporova (ICSID) je postao najčešći forum za rešavanje investicionih sporova. Njegova institucionalna povezanost sa Svetskom bankom je dodatno doprinela sve većem značaju zaštite koju pružaju investicioni sporazumi.

Konačno, ovakav sve veći značaj mehanizama zaštite koje pružaju investicioni sporazumi doveo je do toga da je mogućnost podnošenja tužbe po osnovu sporazuma o zaštiti ulaganja u određenoj jurisdikciji postala bitan faktor prilikom planiranja M&A transakcija. Tako se, baš kao i u cilju postizanja najpovoljnijeg poreskog režima, transakcije inicijalno strukturišu na način koji bi omogućio optimizaciju mehanizama zaštite koji su sadržani u bilateralnim investicionim sporazumima.

Mehanizmi zaštite u bilateralnim investicionim sporazumima u Srbiji

U svetlu navedenog, razmotrićemo sledeća pitanja: Na koje mehanizme zaštite ulaganja mogu da računaju strani ulagači koji investiraju u Srbiji? Ko ima pravo na zaštitu? Koje vrste ulaganja su zaštićene? Zašto bi strani ulagači trebalo da razmotre mogućnost investicione arbitraže pred ICSID-om?

Srbija je potpisnica ICSID Konvencije, što je jedan od preduslova za pokretanje investicione arbitraže protiv države pred ICSID-om. Preduslov je i jasna i bezuslovna saglasnost države domaćina na taj mehanizam rešavanja sporova u pogledu određenih investicionih sporova i prema određenim stranim ulagačima. Ta saglasnost države domaćina obično se daje u okviru BIT-a.

Srbija je potpisala relativno veliki broj bilateralnih investicionih sporazuma. Trenutno je u Srbiji na snazi oko 50 takvih sporazuma. Srbija ima potpisane sporazume o zaštiti uzajamnih ulaganja sa svim državama koje su glavni izvor stranih ulaganja u Srbiji, kao što su Italija, Austrija, Belgija, Grčka, Nemačka, Rusija i druge. Ovi BIT-ovi u glavnom sadrže saglasnost na arbitražu pred ICSID.

Pored postojanja važećeg BIT, strani ulagači u Srbiji mogu da računaju na arbitražu pred ICSID-om kao mehanizam zaštite njihovih ulaganja ukoliko su ispunjena još dva uslova: (i) da je društvo koje vrši ulaganje “strani ulagač” u smislu važećeg BIT i (ii) da postoji “ulaganje” u smislu važećeg BIT.

Zaštićeni ulagači

Osnovno načelo BIT-a je da tužbu protiv države domaćina može podneti samo državljanin druge strane ugovornice. To se odnosi i na fizička i na pravna lica. Kada je reč o fizičkim licima, sporazum obično propisuje da ta lica moraju da imaju državljanstvo druge strane ugovornice.

Kada je, pak, reč o pravnim licima, zahtevi se razlikuju. Neki sporazumi definišu ovu kategoriju stranih ulagača isključivo upućujući na njihovo mesto osnivanja, dok se drugi pozivaju na sedište uprave i zahtevaju da sedište poslovanja društva bude na teritoriji druge strane ugovornice. Neki BIT upućuju na koncept kontrole i zahtevaju da društvo ulagač bude pod kontrolom fizičkog ili pravnog lica koje ima državljanstvo druge strane ugovornice. Neki sporazumi čak dozvoljavaju i da društva osnovana u državi domaćinu podnesu tužbu ako su pod kontrolom fizičkog ili pravnog lica iz druge države ugovornice.

Zaštićeno ulaganje

Po pitanju kategorija ulaganja koje mogu da budu predmet zaštite, BIT-ovi koji su na snazi u Srbiji obično se odnose na “sve vrste imovine” i navode ilustrativnu listu vrsta zaštićenih ulaganja, kao što su pokretna i nepokretna imovina, prava po osnovu udela, novčana potraživanja, prava intelektualne svojine itd.

Garancije koje uživaju investitori

BIT-ovi predviđaju značajne garancije radi zaštitu stranih ulaganja, koje pretpostavljaju određene standarde ponašanja od strane države domaćina prema zaštićenim stranim ulagačima. BIT na snazi u Srbiji po pravilu sadrže uobičajene standarde zaštite ulaganja. Garantuju, na primer, pravičan i ravnopravan tretman, načelo nacionalnog tretmana, načelo najpovlašćenije nacije, zaštitu od eksproprijacije, slobodan prenos sredstava i punu zaštitu i bezbednost.

Rešavanje sporova

BIT koje je zaključila Republika Srbija obično sadrže opcione klauzule o rešavanju sporova koje predviđaju veći broj alternativa za postupak rešavanja sporova. Osim ICSID-a, uglavnom postoji i opcija rešavanja investicionih sporova pred Međunarodnom arbitražnim sudom pri Međunarodnoj privrednoj komori (ICC), drugim institucionalnim arbitražama ili ad hoc arbitražom po pravilima UNCITRAL-a. Sporazumima se obično predviđa “cooling-off period”, odnosno zahteva da ulagač sačeka određeni vremenski period (obično tri do šest meseci) radi pokušaja mirnog rešenja spora pre podnošenja tužbe protiv države. U nekim sporazumima mogu se naći i drugi preduslovi za arbitražu.

Tuženi u investicionoj arbitraži je država domaćin (ili, u nekim slučajevima, njena teritorijalna jedinica ili institucija). Tako investiciona arbitraža ima i politički aspekt i može direktno ili indirektno uticati na kreditni rejting i ugled države domaćina, kako među drugim državama, tako i među stranim ulagačima. Pokretanje arbitraže pred ICSID je javno, pošto se podaci o pokretanju spora i glavne faze u postupku objavljuju na internet stranici ICSID-a.

Za razliku od komercijalne arbitraže, investiciona arbitraža pred ICSID-om je u potpunosti nezavisna od pravosudnog sistema države domaćina. Prvo, arbitražnu odluku ICSID-a ne može poništiti sud nijedne zemlje. Drugo, ona ne mora da prođe kroz postupak priznavanja u državi u kojoj se izvršenje sprovodi. Ima pravno dejstvo pravosnažne sudske presude i direktno je izvršiva.

Prilikom ulaganja u Srbiji, strani ulagači mogu da računaju na relativno širok spektar bilateralnih investicionih sporazuma, ali ipak treba pažljivo da prouče ispunjenost propisanih jurisdikcionalnih uslova kako bi unapred osigurali da postoji sporazum koji bi mogao biti primenljiv u odnosu na njih.